Ask a Pilot Wife

Lately, I have been getting a lot of questions about Steve being a pilot.  Since we saw a lot of family in Poland, Steve's occupation came up on a number of occasions which meant a lot questions were asked.  Not to mention, the owner of the cafe in my office building found out Steve was a pilot, which unearthed another set of questions.  So, I figured I would do a little Q&A: Ask a pilot wife.

Is Steve gone a lot?
- Steve bids 4 days trips.  He is something like 50-60% at his base in terms of seniority, so at this point in the game it is safe to bid 4-days.  The really senior guys on the 737 are working the day Steve will get there.  He is usually gone for 4 days, and home for 3.  On average he works about 17 days a month.

And as odd as this may sound to some people, this actually works for us.  Being away from one another is one of the reasons our relationship works.  When I met Steve he was already into this pilot thing, so I always knew what this lifestyle was like.  The reality of our relationship is that he is gone.  Don't have sympathy for me, or give me the  "oh, it must be so hard to have your husband gone a lot" because most times I am cool with it.  Yes, there are times where I question what I got myself into.  But, most times it is all good.

Is Steve the pilot, or co-pilot?
- I suppose Steve would be considered the co-pilot since he is the First Officer (FO).  But, both people up there are pilots.  Yes, the FO can fly the plane.  Yes, the FO can take-off.  Yes, the FO can land the plane.  Steve wears three stripes, and sits on the right side of the plane.  (Every notice a CA has a tan left arm, and an FO has a tan right arm...think about it, it makes sense!)  Steve was a Captain (CA) while flying for a regional airline to build his PIC (pilot in command) time.  Steve can't hold CA for his current airline, and that is okay.  He is starting to get decent schedules, and at this point in our life a decent schedule is worth everything!  When the kids are older, or even possibly out of the house, is when Steve will either bid CA or different equipment. Once Steve reached mainline he was overall satisfied.  He is happy where he is, even as a FO on a 737.  I am sure some pilots strive to be a CA.  Hell, I know of pilots that strive to fly the big planes.  That doesn't impress me much.  Big shit if you have 4 are probably flying rubber dog shit out of Hong Kong.  (anyone?  anyone?)

Has Steve ever had a scary flight?
- If you ask Steve this question, his answer may differ from mine.  From what I know, I would consider Steve to have had a couple scary flights. He has had two bird strikes into the windshield which caused issues on both occasions.  One strike went through a couple layers of glass.  I think they were a couple hundred feet before touchdown.  The other strike was also during landing (I think 3,000 feet) and the bird went all the way through all the panes of glass, which meant blood and feathers and even a mayday call.  Both instances were before my time, so I don't know the specific details.  I think that airplane also had a fire inflight?  My memory of that is sort of fuzzy...

On a day to day basis, Steve has "uneventful" flights.  I know of times here and there were he is above max altitude, or going too fast, or in decent turbulence, or in need of a mid-air return.  But, I don't know if those flights scare Steve.  Hell, I don't even know if those things are a big deal or not.

Now, being in the aviator world, I know of two scary situations for two pilots I know.  One pilot had an engine failure at cruising altitude.  That was the first time I heard of the term "contaminated fuel."  That ended fine.  The other pilot had his stick shaker go off at cruising altitude.  He is a mainline 737 guy, and his stick shaker went off!  That shit actually scared the pilot enough to consider leaving the job.  This pilot, however, is still flying and all is well. 

Do I ever worry about Steve being a pilot?
- Do you know who once asked me this question?  The wife of a narcotics cop who did raids on drug houses at 4am!  No joke.  This was a couple we met on our honeymoon, so we spent a decent amount of time with them on our trip.  I think I will always remember her asking me that question.  Steve doesn't wear a bullet proof vest to work, for goodness sake!  To answer the question, no I don't worry about Steve.  Often times, I don't even know when he is actually in the air.

There have been an occasional worry here or there, say when the Internet flight tracker is not working and I worry that his plane has gone down, or when there is really heavy weather.  But, I don't worry about this any more than I would if he were to go into town to run an errand. I am sure when we first started dating I would worry like crazy.  Now?  Not so much. 

Does Steve like being a pilot?
- This is always a tough question to answer.  This is tough to answer since the job can be tough on him.  It can be tough on him physically, since he can be from the East Coast to the West Coast and back and forth again...and then back again...all in a span of a couple of days.  Long duty days, and short rest are hard on any body. On top of this all, he is gone from home a lot.  He is gone from his wife and kids a lot.  When he was a kid and wanted to be a pilot, he was a dreamer. When he was in college and figuring out this whole pilot thing, he just had to worry about himself.  He thought it would be cool to travel the world!  Now, he has to be gone from me and the kids.  Now, he has to be away from HIS home. There is no doubt that that wears on him...3 days at home can go by awfully fast, and before you know it another 4-day begins again.  Talking about always trying to play catch up! 

Having said all that, the fact that Steve is still flying must mean something. I have said before, and I will probably say this forever: flying is in your blood.  There is a reason that pilots stick with crap pay and crap schedules for a career - because it is in their blood.  They do it because it is a part of them. 

Do you get to fly anywhere you want for free?
Domestically, yes we can fly anywhere for free...if there is an empty seats on the plane.  Internationally, we can fly if there is an empty seat, and our only fee is to pay taxes. The term "non-rev" is used to describe a airline employee flying like this.  It means we are "non-revenue" passengers. 

Let me just make a couple points to further this non-rev topic:
1. Note that I can fly for free IF there are empty seats.  Remember the last time you flew?  Do you remember how many open seats there were?  Probably not many.  This non-rev things is a game.  You have to watch load factors on flights, and pick the flights that have the best loads.  No show factor...what?  We know it all!  Again, it is all a game. Steve is much better at this game than I am, obviously.  But, sometimes I contribute some good insight.

I recall the trip that Steve and I took January 2006: we went to Paris rather than Rome since the loads looked better. Hell, even our most recent trip, where we connected in Frankfurt, Steve would have some restless nights leading up to the trip thinking about plan A, and plan B, and then plan C, D and E...I could just imagine this web of flights that he had in his mind...

2. Stress.  Let's talk stress.  Stress is taking an impromptu 3-day trip to Scottsdale Arizona over a President's Day weekend, only to almost not make it home.  Low and behold there was weather, somewhere, that made the flight home go from "way comfortable" to "oh my God, we aren't going to make it!"  We both had to work the next day.  Talk about stress!  There are plenty of times where you gain a dozen gray hairs due to the stress of non-reving. 

But you know what, that impromptu trip to Scottsdale may very well be one of the best get-aways for me and Steve.  It was February.  We stayed at an Embassy Suites, turned into some mom and pop place (Chaparral Suites) , that had a happy hour every night.  Therefore, every happy hour included us getting tipsy on wine and beer, which then lead to some GREAT times.  Dinner at Don and Charlies where you can get the BEST dirty martini and creme brulee!  Hell, even this weekend Steve and I went on a date and finished off the night with drinks and dessert of creme brulee at a local restaurant, only to say "it will never taste as good as what we had in Arizona!"

Drink off a pitcher of margaritas at lunchtime (Los Olivos)?  Yup!  How about eating the original molten chocolate cake at Roy's?  (I think they are the original) And then to end that evening with walking back to the hotel, only to find a lemon tree which we decided to pick a couple.  Lemons in February right off the tree?  Please! 

The memories you can make traveling the world are priceless...which can make the non-rev game totally worth it!

Of course, I am happy to answer any other questions that are out there.  These are just the handful of questions that I got over and over again as of late, so I figured I would get them down on "paper."


  1. Ah yes, the Top Gun reference. :) My husband is an FO also but is at the top of the seniority list so the schedules are getting so much better. Sometimes a better schedule is worth less money at our house.

  2. Hi Joanna, I'm facinated by the airline pilot life. I'm one of those dreamers who never made it happen. C'est la vie.

    When you talk about Steve biddnig 4 day trips and other pilots bidding day trips it makes me wonder how much control airline pilots have over the number of days that they fly, routes they can fly, etc. Could you describe that process a little?

    And when is a FO allowed to bid for CA?

    Thanks, and I really enjoy your blogs.


    1. Hi Keith!

      I am happy to describe the bidding process, as much as I know it for Steve's airline...and I am sure that all airlines are different.

      I think as a whole, a pilot wants to fly as many hours as possible while being away from home the least amount of time. Also as a whole, I don't think a pilot cares where he flies. Now, international may be different, but all I know is domestic right now. Having said that, at this point Steve knows that 4-day trips are his life right now. He knows that if he bids 4-day trips, he will usually get Friday, Saturday and Sunday off. Just last year, his typical thing schedule was leaving on Sunday, and coming home on Wednesday. So, in just this year, his seniority increased enough to give him this "upgrade" of having weekends off.

      The next step up will be bidding for 3-day trips. In a good couple years, he could very well be leaving for work on Monday, and getting home on Wednesday...all the while getting the same amount of flight hours as he did with a 4-day.

      One of the most senior trips out of his base is an MCO turn. I think that is something like 5 flight hours a day, so if you do that 4 days a week, that is about 20+ hours of flying (give or take) all the while being home every single night.

      An FO is "allowed" to bid for a CA when the bidding system tells him he can. Again, this is to the best of my knowledge from what Steve has told me. There are a certain number of CA slots, so when a CA retires or leaves, a slot will open up. The only way to fill CA slots is to pull from the FO group. Well, if there are no CA slots available, then no FO can move up. If there are a ton of CAs retiring, then a ton of CA slots will open up. When they moved the retirment age to 65, there was a good 5 year stall in pilot movement, but now things are starting to move again. The same goes for equipment.

      Having said all that, it is your choice of you want to move to CA or if you want to change equipment, if you have the option to change equipment. I think Steve can hold FO on a 757 now, but we aren't even considering it. He would have to commute to another base, and his schedule would be worse than what it is. We are chosing quality of life right now.

      I hope I answered your questions. I am happy to answer any more questions you may have.

  3. Arrgh!!

    Of course I meant to say "bidding" 4 day trips.

  4. Thanks so much Joanna!

    I didn't know that it was possible for senior pilots to have a schedule where they could be home every night.

    1. Sure thing. Well, these are 737 domestic pilots I am talking about. Of course the same wouldn't hold true for wide-body internation pilots. These senior guys would also piggy back 2-day trips. So, four days of flying, and being gone just two nights a week. When pilots are that senior, their is a decent amount of flexability.

  5. I love George Carlin and the "rubber dog shit out of Hong Kong" story!! (it was George Carlin, wasn't it?). Either way, I remember it well and always thought it was funny!
    I hope you and yours have a wonderful Thanksgiving! Gosh, is it really mid-November already??

    1. Nevermind my reference to George Carlin. I obviously just had a major brain fart and am showing my age in more ways than one. It was, of course, from Top Gun........ duhhh......

    2. Yes, Top Gun! Holy hotness of men in that movie...aside from my husband, of course, you can't get any hotter than Wolfman in that volleyball scene!


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